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Archive for June, 2005


Swamprose_1The native swamp rose, Rosa palustris, is now blooming at Crow’s Nest. Its pink flowers are larger than the more common (and invasive) multiflora rose’s white ones, and for us it blooms a bit later. It also lacks the hairy stipules at the base of each leaf stem, or petiole, that you find on multiflora rose. Swamp rose’s hips–the fruit–are also much larger. But even if you didn’t know this, you could distinguish swamp rose from multiflora rose by its behavior: multiflora takes over everywhere, and swamp rose is a well-behaved clump at the pond, along the stream, and near a spring.

Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) is a plant we love to hate. Imported for soil conservation, wildlife habitat, and as a “living fence” to contain livestock, it has taken over many old fields, hedgerows, and wood lots. I lose a lot of blood to its thorns.

A disease called rose-rosette is moving into our area, and it disfigures the new growth on multiflora rose (and some garden roses). The disease reduces the vigor of the plant. Experts think that this will cause multiflora rose populations to be reduced in a cycle of disease boom and bust. It will never eliminate multiflora rose, but perhaps it will never be as dominant as it is today. See links such as this one for more information:


They let me out of here, sometimes.

Occasionally I am reluctant to go away on vacation, because I want to keep a watchful eye on the preserve, because the preserve is such a beautiful place that I view it as a vacation destination, and because I don’t want to miss anything, like blooms.

But there is something restorative about not wearing a watch or shoes for a week. And the only vines I saw at the Outer Banks were native ones: our native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), trumpet-vine (Campsis radicans) and greenbriar (Smilax sp.). I enjoyed the beach and the good company. Thank you, Laceys, for the invitation!

VacationTravel notes:

We fit four adults, two dogs, and all of our gear in the VW Jetta turbodiesel (we used the roof bag for luggage) and still maintained over 40 mpg. I don’t know of any other vehicle that can do that!

TradescantiaWhen I left, the spiderwort (Tradescantia sp.) was blooming. It still is. The blooms open in the morning and are closed by midday.

Likewise, the goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) at the base of the porch has reached full bloom. This plant attracts the most interesting little native bees to pollinate the flowers. I enjoy watching them work while I sit in the rocking chair.

ButterflyweedAmong the new flowers blooming is butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). If the orange flowers weren’t enough, it reliably attracts butterflies.

Thank you to summer intern Sean Quinn, who did such a good job keeping up with the maintenance at the preserve that I feel like I can go away again, and to Steve Holmburg and his family for looking after my pets and houseplants!

Counting Butterflies

Butterfly_count_051 It was a great day to count butterflies.  We had a good group of counters, with a couple seasoned veterans.  Then, we had a couple folks like me, who know a handful of species, but struggle with the different skippers (they look too similar and fly too quickly).  I was really pleased to identify a southern cloudy wing correctly.  That means that there is hope for everyone! 

We tallied 21 different butterfly species, and counted 172 individual butterflies.  We had several that got away before we were able to identify them.  We don’t use nets, but rather binoculars that can focus to a few feet.  We have counted 22 species on three previous counts, so 21 is a good count. 

Great spangled fritillaries were the high species with 55 butterflies.  It is a long name, but they are beautifly butterflies that are abundant at Mariton.  When their wings are closed, you can see the silver spots (or spangles).  When open or flying, you see orange.  We only counted 45 cabbage whites.  Silver- spotted skippers came in at 14.

Like bird censuses, a butterfly census is only a snapshot in time.  If we counted in the afternoon, we might pick up some different species and loose some species from the morning count.  In a year with lots of milkweed blooming, we would get different numbers, than a year with very few blooms, etc.  But over years it does give us an idea of what butterfly species one should be able to find in late June.  So, it provides important baseline data.  This can be interesting when looking at trends, more than comparing one year against another. 

Butterfly_count_053 Here is a photo of a hackberry emperor.  These are “friendly” butterflies, readily landing on people and light colored clothing. 

Rhododendrons in Bloom

Rhody_001 The rhododendrons are just coming into bloom.  These are the native rhododendrons (Rhododendron maximum), with big white blossoms and a hint of pink.  A large portion of the east slope overlooking the Delaware River is covered with rhodies.  From what I can tell, it looks like most of them will have blossoms.  It should be a beautiful show.  I don’t think it will be quite as spectacular as the year 2000, when every bush on the hill was coverd with blossoms.  That summer it looked like a cotton field , when one stood at the Lookout and looked back up the hill.

The best place to view the show will be from the River Lookout Trail.  But, if you aren’t up to climbing back up the hill, the Main Trail will have a good display also.  Based on what I am seeing, I expect the beauty to last until after the Fourth of July.  I am guessing the peak of the bloom will be about July 1st.  But if you are like me, you will want to keep checking over and over, so that you don’t miss it.

When you visit, remember that this section was also shaded by eastern hemlock trees twenty years ago.  All the hemlocks have died, due mostly to the hemlock wooly adelgid.  This insect was accidentally introduced to North America, and has since wiped out hemlocks in many parts of the Eastern United States.  Before the wooly adelgids, this section was similar to a classic Pocono Hemlock/Rhody forest.  It is still interspersed with chestnut oaks, sweet birch and American beech.  There are still a few hemlock skeletons standing to testify, but most have now blown over.

Blinking Lights

Last night, when I took the dog outside and it looked like Christmas around the yard.  All right, it was 70 degrees outside.  And yes, all the trees were leafed out, very unlike the winter time.

But all of the trees around the yard were filled with little blinking white lights.  While they weren’t blinking in a rhythm we normally associate with the winter decorations, there was a discernible pattern. 

They were fireflies, tens of thousands of them in all of the trees.  If the trees had been leafless, I am sure it would have looked exactly like Christmas decorations.  The lights and patterns are all part of the mating process.  Different species of fireflies have different blinking patterns that they use to bring attention to themselves to attract potential mates.  There are even some predatory species that mimic patterns to attract other species in hopes of finding a meal, not a mate.

In fact, part of what made last night special, was that the fireflies were staying in one place and blinking.  As you can imagine, besides attracting mates, their light is screaming out:  “Here I am, come eat me!” to bats, nighthawks, and other predators.  Usually, fireflies don’t stay in one place too long.  If they do stay in one place, they put some time between their blinking sequences.  But last night, perhaps because there were so many, they stayed in one place and blinked. 

Hay Fever

1030305_img The Natural Lands Trust Stroud Preserve has dramatically transformed.  Monolithic hay bales spot a landscape that of late resembled an ocean of grass.  It is important to remember how significantly agriculture impacts our ecosystem.  Sustainable farming practices result in cleaner water, increased wildlife habitat, and less fertilizer pollution than conventional farming. The Natural Lands Trust and other organizations work to insure farming, on preserves like Stroud, is sustainable.  Please come see sustainable agriculture in action.

Extended Shorebird Migration beach closures

Due to the late arrival of the horseshoe crab spawning this year, the annual beach closures for the shorebird migration and horseshoe crab spawning has been extended through Thursday June 23, 2005.

The horsecrab spawning was very active last week, as you can see from this picture.Horseshoe_crab_spawning_2005_23 

Please respect the continued closures and enjoy this spectacular annual event.

A pet peeve: Bug zappers

A neighbor has erected one of those ultraviolet bug zappers in the backyard, where it makes nearly continuous obnoxious zapping noises. No doubt this sends a reassuring message to the people who purchased it. But it is not doing anything good for their well-being or for the environment.

My first reaction, when I happened to drive by and see it erected near the preserve’s woods was an indignant, “Hey, they’re killing our bugs!” An overwhelming majority of insects are not pests of humans, so many of the bugs being zapped are “innocent,” or at least “not bad.” Some of them prey on other insects. Notably, mosquitoes are not attracted to ultraviolet light, so probably few of the zaps are killing our least desirable insects. At best the machine is a waste of electricity.

But also I feel that if we are living with nature (which I think we should be) then we should accept that there will be some bugs around us. To do otherwise would be like living on a houseboat and not liking water. Insects play an important role in the food web, pollinating the flowers they evolved with and serving as food for the other species that depend on them.

The best way to reduce the numbers of mosquitoes around our yards is to eliminate places where standing water persists: old tires, buckets, tarps, and bird baths. It doesn’t take very much water to grow mosquito larvae. Dump out the water, and change bird bath water frequently.

What is a Weed?

DandelionOr, why am I relatively unconcerned about dandelions in my lawn, and yet very upset about invasive species taking over woods and meadows throughout our region?

A weed is simply an undesirable plant: a plant that is growing in the wrong place. Most likely the plant is unwanted because it grows too aggressively, is unattractive, or has some other negative impact on the landscape or ecology.

Dandelions (Taraxacum acaule, above) have beautiful flowers. It’s when the stalks going to seed rise above the lawn that the turf looks terrible. Sure, I worry what the neighbors think. But it only looks bad for a week or so. A lawn is not a natural state of vegetation—turfgrass is not native and woods and meadows are our natural flora—and so having weeds in it is purely an aesthetic objection. I can overcome this by learning to live with it. Really, controlling dandelions is not worth the risk and effort of the pesticides that so many people use.

AkebiaOn the other hand, plants that are invasive in natural areas have the capability of changing the kind of world we live in—reducing us from a diverse native forest to one that is degraded and less complex. Invasive species outcompete others; we risk living in a world where only the thugs have survived. That’s five-leaf akebia (Akebia quinata) above, reaching into powerlines.

Humans have introduced thousands of species to new habitats, either on purpose or by accident. This rate of introduction is orders of magnitude greater than what would occur naturally. A fraction of these have later been discovered to be invasive in their new habitat.

The introduction of species appears to bring new bounty to our landscape. But as Kim Todd writes in “Tinkering with Eden: A Natural History of Exotics in America” (Norton, 2001) there are unintended consequences. She writes about the introduction of non-native game species as one example: while these stories “. . . appear tales of addition, subtraction is the underlying theme . . . Instead of a world with heath hens and ring-neck pheasants, we have only ring-necked pheasants . . . Instead of a world with passenger pigeons and rock doves, we have only rock doves . . .” (p.252).

If we are successful controlling invasive plants on our preserves, our lands will be merely . . . less invaded. However, they will also be greater reserves of biodiversity. It is thankless work, this controlling invasives plants this summer (and every summer). People don’t tend to notice the absence of something like the increasingly ubiquitous mile-a-minute; they don’t know whether it hasn’t invaded here yet, or that we spend a great deal of effort keeping it from becoming established (the latter is true). But the stakes are high—either do what we can to minimize the impact of invasive species, or we’ll pass on to later generations a world that lacks many of the species we enjoy.

In Situ

There is a new preserve manager at Stroud, and it is I.    Stroud’s neighbors have shown me the hospitality for which this community is so reputed, and although this first week has been more dizzying than pacifying, I feel at home.  The rolling hills and glimmering grass of the preserve are a source of tranquility, and offer shelter from the whirlwind flying around my head.  My hope is that with dedication and patience I can add to the inherent beauty of Stroud.  Please feel free to contact me at my new home.


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